I took another long walk today, photographing plants that caught my interest as I went along. I was hoping, once again, to find some sign that Spring is on it’s way, what with the equinox being three days away. I should have known better, since temperatures didn’t rise above freezing at all today and it snowed this morning, but I did get some nice pictures for you so I call it a success.
So winter is definitely still here. Even though the sun was shining beautifully, the bog was still frozen over, and the landscape is defined by dead milkweed pods. They are attractive in their own right, like a flower for winter. Milkweed is a well-known wild edible, but only in certain stages of growth. Young shoots can be cooked and eaten, as can the flower buds and immature pods. Don’t eat mature parts of the plant (leaves, stalks, etc.) where toxins build up over time.
There are still some cattails that didn’t puff completely last year. I wonder what happened to them to keep them so intact. Incidentally, cattails are a year-round source of food if you know how to get it. The stalks are edible, and the spikes can be eaten before they mature. People collect the pollen to flavor a variety of dishes. In the fall and winter, the rhizomes can be dug out of the mud and eaten, although you have to brave freezing water to get them. Evidence shows people were eating cattail rhizomes some 30,000 years ago.
Later along the walk, I found this little garden of shelf fungi growing on a stump. The different colors ranged from blue to green to grey, and really caught my eye. These mushrooms are only the reproductive structure of a much larger network of fibers throughout the log. These fibers feed on the log, growing mushrooms to reproduce, and break down the dead wood, releasing nutrients that other organisms can use in the future.
Close by, there was a tiny patch of bright green moss. There was a remarkable contrast to the brown dead leaves and grass around it. I think it looks a little like a tiny green hedgehog in the leaf litter. I don’t know if it’s still growing in this cold or it kept it’s color throughout the winter, but it was beautiful either way.
Looking closely at another moss, it looks like a small pine tree. Mosses lack the vessels other plants use to transport water and nutrients, so they are limited to a small size, but they are every bit as complex as larger plants. Mosses form their own little microclimate for other plants and animals, by trapping moisture and insulating the ground underneath them. Decomposers thrive in these environments, helping to break down organic matter to make fertile soil.
This fertile soil is an ideal substrate for larger plants to grow in. Here is a small pine seedling, bravely waiting for spring to come so it can begin growing again.
Even in the most exposed and inhospitable environments we find some life. On the bark of this tree was a large lichen. Lichens are a symbiosis of an alga and a fungus. The alga uses sunlight and carbon dioxide to create food, and the fungus can release minerals from the substrate. Together, they can grow just about anywhere… When the environment becomes too harsh for growth, the lichen simply goes dormant until conditions improve.
Last of all, I found a clear sign that spring is close. This bud is about to burst open in new growth. I don’t know what tree this is, but I just love the red color of the buds. The whole tree was covered in buds like this. Once the buds open I should be able to find out what species it is. Hopefully the weather will warm up soon and the plants can start growing again!
~The Homesteading Hippy